sixth album by famed live hip hop crew The Roots
, finally made it to the public on November 26, 2002 after at least one name change and several months of delays. It was originally titled Introducing The Roots,
a somewhat playful title considering the previous studio effort Things Fall Apart
went platinum and brought the group a Grammy. According to drummer, producer and mouthpiece ?uestlove
, the "introducing" in the title hearkened back to album titles of soul
records from the early sixties, and was also meant to turn forward to new sounds and styles for a group that, while always innovative, was in danger of getting into a rut or two. The album retains an experimental stance and a break from many of the group's norms. As far as the new title, ?uest's joke in interviews has been, "Why Phrenology
? Because heads
will love it!"
It's a dark, somewhat weird record, as befits its name. But it still manages to satisfy as a whole album in a way that recent competitors like Blackalicious' Blazing Arrow didn't. At the heart of the album, literally and figuratively, is "Water," an only barely veiled piece of tough love for erstwhile MC and keyboardist Malik B. (Malik has not toured with the group since before Things Fall Apart and is widely believed to be addicted to crack.) After three minutes or so of calm, confident, mature anger over a bed of minor-keyed bass, crackling percussion and off-kilter, weirdly comfortable handclaps, the track grinds to a halt in hip hop terms, leaving a thick soup of reverb and delay, screams, thuds and sampled answering machine messages. It skirts cliche now and again, but it holds together as an authentic statement - which is a damn sight better than the 12-minute track on the Blackalicious record, the (separately quite nice) parts of which add up to an aimless and pretentious whole.
Other album highlights include "Pussy Galore" (have you ever heard a rapper attack commercialized sex for a whole track? Me neither), the golden-age samples of the up-tempo "Thought @ Work," the drum-and-bass patches that crop up in the single "Break You Off" and the Amiri Baraka collaboration "Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)." Then there's the raunchy, uneasy truce between rap and blues on the Cody Chestnutt collaboration "The Seed (2.0)," the 45 seconds or so of punk thrash(!) near the top... the Roots are trying shit.
By and large, the production and mixing duties on Phrenology are handled by a similar crew as Things Fall Apart (mostly by the group itself, or a subset). Things don't sound as smooth, mostly deliberately, and the technical guests and new faces are generally not anyone you've heard of. As far as the performing guests, they are what delayed the album by five months, as cameo request after cameo request turned the group down or dicked around with them for weeks with promises to show up. Most of this was over the "Break You Off" single, which finally featured Musiq Soulchild in a staid chorus the label must have insisted on, for lack of anything else that approached a clone of "You Got Me." The song sounds decent as a whole, if you can forget about the video.
87. Phrentrow (featuring Ursula Rucker)
88. Rock You
90. Sacrifice (featuring Nelly Furtado)
91. Rolling With Heat (featuring Talib Kweli)
92. WAOK (AY) Roll Call
93. Thought @ Work
94. The Seed (2.0) (featuring Cody Chestnutt)
95. Break You Off (featuring Musiq Soulchild)
96. Water (featuring James "Blood" Ulmer)
98. Pussy Galore
99. Complexity (featuring Jill Scott)
100. Something In The Way Of Things (In Town) (featuring Amiri Baraka)
(The Roots number their tracks sequentially from album to album; there have been one hundred recorded Roots songs over seven releases, counting an EP
I cannot identify the guest MC on the first hidden track. Might be Kweli again. Pity me, for I am but a white boy.